Saturday, March 21, 2009

Life in the Gray Zone

Right now, we don't technically call Japan or the U.S. home. Or maybe I should say we still technically call both places home. Either way you choose to look at it, we're living in a gray area - not really committed to one place exclusively. We haven't yet moved on to a monogamous relationship with either country or culture. As a result, things are occasionally complicated.

You see, at the moment we're trying to prepare for our return to the U.S. For now, we anticipate staying in the U.S. for the summer and returning to Japan in the fall to stay here for another 9 months or so (October '09 - June '10). In order to make this work, we need to tend to some practical details like finding someone to rent our place starting this fall. And then there's the whole work situation...But that's all for another post.

Because you see, beyond the practicalities, I'm already preparing for things like all the foods I want to eat upon our return (diner foods, lots of deep dark chocolate, coffee by the gallon, rice that's long grain, beans that aren't red or soy). I'm sure you get the idea. Likewise, I'm already thinking of all the friends I want to see while we're back in the U.S. This led to some discussion between Gboy and I last night. It got fairly heated at some point (for no particularly good reason) but I think what we both realized is that trying to live in two places, while admirable and what we both think we want right now, is a pretty significant undertaking. More importantly, he is concerned that I might have unrealistic expectations about how often I will get to see people I want to visit with (because they just might not commit to visiting with us) or that I will in some way be disappointed or let down when people don't respond as I hope they might.

He has a legitimate concern I think. Since living overseas, and I've talked to a number of people who say this, your friends back home tend to go on with their lives and their other friends and often they may not even think to write you. Then when you get back home for a visit, "Hey how are you?" and one visit and they may be good. They may feel that they've satisfied their quota of time with you (not that they wouldn't necessarily agree to spending more time with you, but they were just happy to see you once). On the other hand, having lived in a "non-English speaking, I've got few friends" kind of environment for the last 9 months, I'm hoping to fill up my tank again with lots of hanging out with my old crowd before I return to Japan. You can see the potential disparity and opportunity for disappointment, no?

At this point, I'm trying to adjust my expectations and just plan to enjoy the time that we do have in Seattle this summer. In fact, one of the things I'm considering is hosting a weekly brunch at our house. We'd provide some fruit and lite munchies, throw the doors open at 11am on a Sunday and let all of our friends know that they're welcome to stop by for a couple of hours and see who comes. We have friends who have successfully hosted some of the most amazing supper clubs using this principle. People quickly started offering to cook, bring drinks, prepare food, do clean-up etc. All they had to do was provide the space and in return, they got to visit with friends from all different parts of their lives in one place at one time. And the bonus is that we got to meet a lot of their really cool friends; everyone enjoyed it. This might be the surest way for us to routinely visit with folks and not even have to put all that much effort into the process (meaning we wouldn't have to drive all over the city to visit with dozens of different people, we wouldn't have to try to schedule individual dinners/lunches with my friends vs. Gboy's friends, we wouldn't have to worry about Peanut's nap schedule...).

Oh, and I just happen to LOVE brunch!


  1. I think your hubby is referring to "Reverse culture shock", and I bet he has had a bit of it in his life up to this point.

    This is a book that has helped me and my Mom (after a short but intense trip abroad) and many friends. It is a Christian book, but I don't remember it being pushy or preachy. Just really helpful on what to expect when you "go back" as missionaries have been having reverse culture shock for centuries! You might want to check it out!

  2. That's something I never even considered! Your brunch idea sounds perfect, I can imagine people really taking to that idea. No fuss, no muss, just good company and good food.

  3. That's a perfect idea! OR you could always move to Oregon ;o) I'll be your friend ANYTIME!

  4. Kim - Thanks for the great tip! I'll have to check that out.

    Beautiful - You are sweet :) And Oregon is really not that far off....

  5. I can kind of relate. I was an exchange student for my senior year of high school, and towards the end, I flew back to the US for a scholarship competition. I remember writing in my diary in the plane (ah, back when I wrote with a pen on paper...) that I didn't know whether I was flying home or away from home.

    I think your husband is right in some respects, and I think your brunch idea nearly perfect! It's so hard when you're some place for a limited time to see everyone you want.

  6. Yep, sounds like me when I returned from Japan to Australia. I had expected everything to be the same and had 'frozen' my friendships in my mind, but when I got back it took a little bot of work to get back into their inner circle again. Pkus my mannerisms after 1 year in Japan were a bit bizzare to people!

    Saying that, the world is made pretty small with internet and other technology, so if you have kept up with the major milestones in your friend's lives that will make a big difference.

    It won't be quite like 'old times' because everyone has changed, but catching up for brunch at your place sounds like a good plan.

  7. Just catching up a bit and when you mentioned your craving for beans and long-grain rice, I was reminded of my food-saviour when I was living in Japan - Tengu Natural Foods. They do mail order foods and natural living products and you can find them here if you haven't already discovered their awesomeness!

    And your brunch idea sounds awesome - that was always part of my strategy when I was home for visits.